30 March 2012

West Africa: More U.S Aid to Relieve Food Shortages in Sahel

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Washington — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced March 29 that the United States will boost its response to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Africa's Sahel region, where ongoing drought has led to food insecurity for millions.

Clinton said the United States is earmarking an additional $120 million in emergency assistance, bringing the total for this year to almost $200 million.

"We are making highly nutritious therapeutic food available for malnourished children," Clinton said. The U.S. assistance efforts are directed to both short-term and long-term needs. "In addition to providing life-saving food, we are working to help vulnerable families and communities buy locally available food and services, while developing small-scale projects and infrastructure that can help build the resilience necessary to withstand future drought," she said.

Clinton also noted the international partnership in this humanitarian response. "Together, we are saving lives, mitigating impact and building resilience," she said.

The World Food Programme (WFP) expressed appreciation for the U.S. aid and the fact that it comes in two forms: $28 million in cash assistance and 7,500 metric tons of food to be taken from supplies strategically positioned in the region.

"The cash contribution and use of pre-positioned stocks enables us to deliver quick, life-saving assistance in the short term with significant in-kind food assistance arriving just at the peak of the crisis when the needs are greatest," according to WFP's director of U.S. relations, Allan Jury.

WFP projects that 8.8 million people will need food assistance in the coming months.

Drought has caused food insecurity in this region on the southern edge of the Sahara desert, encompassing Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, and high food prices have worsened the situation. In some places, food is available in the markets but people don't have money to buy it.

Other pressures in the region escalate the need, according to the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET), In a March 27 report, FEWS NET said, "End-of-season pest attacks in north-central Guera in Chad, the eruption of active conflict in northern Mali, and the related displacement and market disruptions in Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso have exacerbated the impacts of a mediocre 2011 season."

FEWS NET is a data-gathering and analysis collaboration of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) working with international, regional and national partners to monitor conditions in famine-prone regions of the world.

Conditions in the first quarter of 2012 have improved somewhat in the Sahel, FEWS NET reports, with "important exceptions showing less favorable trends" in western Mali and Mauritania and northern Mali.

FEWS NET predicts some difficult months still to come -- "Crisis food-security outcomes are likely between July-September in parts of the Sahel" -- and notes that further emergency assistance will be required to prevent acute malnutrition.

The United States is the world's largest food donor. In 2012 U.S. contributions have reached $365 million.

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